From the March 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard
Trotskyists claim that the Labour leadership has “betrayed Socialism.” In fact they themselves are no more Socialists than are Wilson, George Brown or Frank Cousins.
What is today known as Trotskyism originated about forty years ago as an opposition movement within the Russian Communist Party to the Stalin leadership, and much of Trotskyist theory is concerned with the nature of Russian society. To them Russia is not Capitalist, but a “degenerate Workers’ State.” They argue that the 1917 Revolution ended Capitalism in Russia but that a few years later, as a result of the failure of the world revolution, a bureaucracy was able to usurp power from the workers. This means that Russia still remains for them "a basis for the international State for the abolition of war, for possibilities as yet undreamed of” (The World Revolution, C. L. R. James), and it is the duty of the workers of the world, we are told, to defend this gain.
If the Soviet Union goes down, then Socialism receives a blow which will cripple it for a generation. And therefore, though seeing the Soviet Union as it is, the Trotskyists, uncompromising enemies of Stalinism, will defend the Soviet Union is peacetime as in war. (ibid pp. 418-9).
The question now arises: Is the Russian economic system “progressive”? Is it any more Socialist than that of the West? We answer that it is not. The economic system in Russia exhibits all the essential characteristic of Capitalism: production for sale, wages, markets, money and profits. Certainly a large part of industry is nationalised but nationalisation is nothing to do with Socialism. As for war, its basic primary cause is Capitalism’s struggle for markets, raw materials and trade routes; since the workers throughout the world have no interest in the maintenance of Capitalism so they have no interest in the prosecution of its wars. The Socialist in fact expresses his unqualified opposition to all wars, whether they be wars of aggression, of “defence” or ‘‘national liberation,” for “democracy” or for anything else. We do not just say, as do pacifists, that men should not fight in wars, but that men should reorganize society to remove the cause of war. Socialism will do away with war since trading and markets will disappear when goods are no longer produced to be sold. Socialists see no reason therefore why the workers of the world should fight and die for Russian Capitalism any more than for British or American or any other Capitalism.
The argument about the “progressive economic system” has even less merit than that employed by those alleged Socialists before the first World War, who held that the workers must be prepared to defend the democratic institutions of their country “ because it is the only means by which they can peaceably achieve their emancipation.” For Russia is not even a democratic country: the workers there have to put up with a dictatorship which denies them the most elementary rights needed to protect their interests—the right to organise politically and the right to strike. Yet the Trotskyists are prepared to make common cause with these, and with similar dictators. They acted as recruiting sergeants in Cuba when the Castro clique was threatened by an American backed invasion in April last year. “Workers’ and anti-imperialist organisations and parties,” declared the Trotskyist Fourth International, “must immediately organize brigades, open recruiting for volunteers to defend the Cuban Workers State.” A cardinal point in the programme of the Trotskyist groups in Britain is nationalization under workers’ control. Young Guard (March, 1962) expands [on] this:
. . . we can say that trade unions under socialism should concern themselves with all questions of wages, conditions, automation (and in these problems they should always have at their disposal the right to strike). But at the same time we should press for the establishment and recognition of the factory committee, whose purpose is the participation with the state in all matters of control and administration of wealth production.
The reference to wages implies, of course, the existence of an employer, presumably the State, and that the workers should co-operate with this employer. We point out at once that a society in which people still have to work for wages cannot be called Socialism. Socialism is based on common ownership, which means that money, wages, profits, buying and selling and all the other features of private property society will have disappeared. The wages system is in fact one of the cornerstones of Capitalism and for this reason we distinguish it from other systems by the fact that those who produce work for wages. The wages system is completely incompatible with Socialism and to talk about a “Socialist wages policy” is nonsense.
What is the Socialist alternative to the wages system? First, let us look at this system a little closer. The wages system cannot flourish unless most people, to all intents and purposes, own none of the means of production, while a few own them all. The majority therefore have no choice: they must work for those who own. Socialism by making the means of production common property will end this inequality of wealth on which the wages system flourishes. What common ownership will mean is that nobody will be denied free access to the means of living, and the ownership of these means by individuals will appear quite as fantastic as does slavery today. Under these conditions the satisfaction of man’s needs will be the sole end of production: the Labour Exchange will disappear along with the Stock Exchange.
How people live under Capitalism is well known. Those who have no ownership in the means of production sell their energies and abilities for a wage and use the money received to buy what they need to maintain themselves and their family in working order. Under Socialism people will work and receive as much as they think they need: they will freely give their labour and take what they require. This is the Socialist alternative to the wages system and anything short of this is not Socialism.
Nor does the fact that the State instead of a private individual is the employer alter the Capitalist nature of society. On the contrary, far from abolishing Capitalism this would strengthen it since all the power of the employing class would be concentrated in the State. It is a fact that Russia, the country with probably the highest percentage of State ownership, is the only country of which it can be said that the power of the working class to resist has been almost completely crushed. Even in Britain it is those in the state industries who suffer most from any Government's wages policy: it takes little imagination to see how much more easily, for example, a government could impose a pay pause if it were the only employer. State control is in fact a form of Capitalist ownership; the State acts as the representative of the employing class as a whole and shares out amongst this class what the workers produce over and above their wages—interest on government bonds, bloated salaries for higher administrators, expense accounts, bonuses, tax concessions and other such privileges.
We can now see that nationalisation under workers' control is a meaningless concept; for as long as the workers own nothing—and they must continue to do so as long as the wages system exists—they can have no control. Power will remain in the hands of the propertied minority, those who benefit from the state industries in the ways we have mentioned.
We say then that the Trotskyists do not stand for the overthrow of Capitalism since they envisage the continued existence of the wages system. They are not, and have never been. Socialists.